Bruce Granville Miller

I first met Bruce at the 1993 CASCA conference held at York University.  We found ourselves part of a panel of individually volunteered papers.  My own paper was called something like Discipline and Punish (an anti-Foucaultian ripoff of Foucault) and was focussed on the virulent racism of white working class fishermen in BC. After our session Bruce suggested we grab a coffee and we spent several hours talking about Indigenous related research in BC.

I was intrigued by the work that Bruce was doing with what was a then new UBC graduate fieldschool being developed in collaboration with the Sto:lo Nation who reside along the Fraser River from about Hope westward near the mouth of the river. It seemed like an exciting hands on kind of teaching that made a lot of sense.  Later, when I was hired by UBC to a faculty position, I joined Bruce as a co-instructor of the field school for three years.  It was a great way to get one’s feet wet in meaningful field work, develop a strong professional relationship with alike minded colleague, and provide some awesome learning experiences for our graduate students.

Bruce is a recognized scholar of legal anthropology as it pertains to Indigenous peoples, specifically the Coast Salish communities in the US and Canada.  His first book, The Problem of Justice (part of the Fourth World Rising book series edited by Gerald Sider), delves into ethnographic case studies of Indigenous Nations enacting and engaging with internal and state imposed justice systems. His second book, Invisible Indigenes, Bruce extends his concern with the application of justice to the ways in which the politics of legal recognition intersects with histories of colonialism, application of colonial law, and attempts to reconcile with Indigenous legal frameworks.  Bruce’s third book, Oral Histories on Trial, draws upon Bruce’s extensive experience writing expert opinions for Indigenous litigation. It’s an impressive book that speaks to both anthropologists and lawyers.


Make it real – an Indigenous take on research

Over the years I have had the opportunity to speak around UBC on matters of Indigenous research. In each of these talks I discuss the critical importance of standing with Indigenous peoples.  By this I mean don’t turn us into the objects of your gaze but rather work with us and do what you are best able to do study your own society.  Too often settler researchers use our Indigenous communities as laboratories to test their ideas. Worse yet they use our ideas, histories, actions as data sets to input into their own visions of the world.

At a recent anthropology conference I heard researchers who, almost as an aside, described the situations of state interference into the lives of Indigenous peoples they were working with. These were asides as the primary focus of the researcher was the lives and beliefs of the Indigenous communities. The opportunity to study the state, its functionaries,  and it’s mercenaries should not be overlooked.  Settler researchers who wish to act as allies should study other settlers and the way settlers infringe upon Indigenous peoples’ lives.  The time for studying us is long past.

Here are three talks that highlight some of the issues I find central to a respectful anthropological research.

Respectful research in a colonial context.

Reflections on identity: does it matter who I am, who you are, when we do research?

Meditations on research and responsibility.



Karen Brodkin

Karen Brodkin, anthropologist, is part of a historic transformation of anthropological practice. She, along with a cohort of other female anthropologists, brought the insights of the women’s movement into the classrooms and lecture halls of the university.  Building from political study circles and action groups she was among a generation who understood that commitment was more than a word, it was an act.

My first encounter with Karen Brodkin was through chapter, “Engels Revisited” published in the celebrated book, Women Culture and Societyabout fifteen years after it was written. By the time I was reading Brodkin’s work as an undergrad the terrain of anthropological research had already been transformed. However, the intense political struggles that Brodkin and her colleagues had been engaged in had been sidelined in the mainstream discipline by an easier textual struggle in which how one wrote was considered as (if not more) important than what one wrote.  For those of us coming from working class and colonized social worlds, however, we found inspiration in the writing of people like Brodkin.

I have found two articles of particular help in my own thinking about doing anthropology that pays attention to social class. Toward a Unified Theory of Class, Race, and Gender (AE 1989) is a clear statement of Brodkin’s socialist feminism.  This paper helps us think through the ways in which social class is not innocent of social categories like race and gender, but how those concepts are integral to making sense of class. Her paper Women, Work, and Karl Marx (AWR 1998) provides a critical overview of how an earlier anthropology of women and work “helped develop a coherent research agenda within anthropology: it attends to the ways and sites at which people resist global capitalism, to what works and what does not, the relationship between the cultural constructions of identity and how, when and in what ways they do and do not work for mobilizing social change.”

Early in my appointment at UBC I was able to get funding for a research conference that allowed me to bring in a host of academics that I admired.  Karen Brodkin was on that list. Other well established progressive scholars also invited included: Gerald Sider, Gavin Smith, Brigit O’Laughlin, and Deborah Fink.  It was a three day event in which all we did was talk about issues of gender, race and their intersection with social class.

For close to four decades Karen Brodkin combined community-centered social activism with exemplary scholarship that highlighted women, work, and the possibilities of a better world. During the decades of navel gazing scholar-activists like Brodkin kept the pressure on.  Today, as we turn back toward engaged scholarship, Brodkin’s work is even more important then when she wrote it.


Some Other Online Sources

An interview with the Savageminds Blog. 

Finding aid for some of Karen Brodkin’s research materials

Oral history interview with Karen Brodkin (click and scroll to the bottom of the list)


Books by Karen Brodkin

2009: Power Politics: Environmentalism in South Los Angeles. Rutgers University Press (Youtube video of book talk)

2007: Making Democracy Matter: Identity and Activism in Los Angeles. Rutgers University Press.

1998: How Jews Became White Folks And What That Says About Race In America. Rutgers University Press. (Honorable Mention, 1999 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award).

1988 Caring By The Hour: Women, Work And Organizing At Duke MedicalCenter. University of Illinois Press(Conrad Arensberg Award, Society for the Anthropology of Work and Honorable Mention Staley Prize in Anthropology)

1984 My Troubles Are Going To Have Trouble With Me. co edited with D. Remy.New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

1979 Sisters And Wives: The Past And Future Of Sexual Equality. Westport: Greenwood